Reprieve reports UK Government to police for war crimes over failure to secure release of Yunus Rahmatullah

February 20, 2012

The British Government has been reported to the police over war crimes in Iraq, following its failure to secure the release of a prisoner rendered to Afghanistan and held without charge or trial for eight years.

Yunus Rahmatullah was detained by UK forces in Iraq in 2004 and subsequently ‘rendered’ to the notorious US-run Bagram prison in Afghanistan. Despite being cleared for release by the US military, he remains unlawfully imprisoned in Bagram to this day.

Under an agreement signed between the two allies and intended to insulate Britain from complicity in US war crimes, the UK retained the right to require his transfer back to their custody at any time.Following an English Court of Appeals habeas corpus order last year, the British Government duly ‘requested’ the return of Mr Rahmatullah, but today told the Court that the US had ‘effectively’ refused.

This lays the UK Government open to charges over the torture, rendition and detention of Mr Rahmatullah: an ongoing war crime. London’s Metropolitan Police are now reportedly beginning investigations after a formal complaint was submitted by legal action charity Reprieve.

Regrettably, the Court of Appeals this morning apparently accepted the UK Government’s argument that it is incapable of retrieving Mr Rahmatullah, opting to dissolve the habeas corpus writ for reasons to be released on Thursday. However, neither the UK nor US Governments, nor the judges, have denied that war crimes were committed or that Mr Rahmatullah is currently held illegally in Bagram; his case must therefore now be resolved by the Metropolitan Police.

Mr Rahmatullah, a Pakistani national, is reported to be in ‘catastrophic physical shape’, after being badly abused and held without charge or trial, largely incommunicado, for nearly eight years. He only recently made contact with his family, who remain desperately concerned about his safety. He remains in Bagram prison, beyond the rule of law, despite having been cleared for release even by the US military’s own procedures.

Reprieve’s Executive Director, Clare Algar said: “Sadly, the UK has squandered this opportunity to right the wrongs of the past. But this is far from over. The British Government’s failure to persuade its supposedly closest ally to honour agreements signed between the two countries has left it open to war crimes charges. The Government now faces yet another investigation over its involvement in torture and rendition.“British ministers clearly made no great effort to secure the release of Mr Rahmatullah. But it has to be asked how anyone can claim the existence of a ‘special relationship’ when the US does not even seem prepared to raise a finger to prevent Britain from facing war crimes charges.”

Yunus Rahmatullah’s cousin Munir Ahmed said: “After eight years of misery, the British court finally gave us some hope when they tried to free Yunus. So we are bitterly disappointed that he is still in Bagram. We still believe the British Government can get Yunus back home to his family, and we desperately hope they keep trying to help us. I would just like the British to say to the US: Yunus is cleared for release, so why can’t he go home?”


1. The full text of Reprieve’s complaint to the Metropolitan Police and the UK’s request for the release of Mr Rahmatullah and the US response are available on Reprieve’s website.

2. For further information, please see Yunus Rahmatullah’s case page or contact Donald Campbell or Katherine O’Shea in Reprieve’s press office on +44 (0) 207 427 1082.

3. Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives.

Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 15 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, assisting over 70 prisoners facing the death penalty around the world, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

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